Transformational Gardening

Disclaimer: Foraging can be fun, rewarding and provide health benefits. As a novice forager, I will be sharing my foraging experiences. However, in order to be safe, always consult with local foraging experts and guidebooks before beginning foraging. Children should learn to forage safely by being guided by experienced adults. Never ingest anything unless you are certain of the identification and safety of the plant. Some plant species are inedible and some are poisonous.

July 2009 Foraging Experiences

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July 3, 2009

Wintergreen (Checkerberry, Teaberry) (Gaultheria procumbens)

While out gathering tea (Eastern White Pine) this afternoon, I came across some plants that looked like what I read about Wintergreen. The leaves were a thick and shiny (glossy) and, as my friend Judy told me, it is often found next to trees. The Peterson Field Guide for Edible Wild Plants of Eastern/Central North America mentions that a crushed leaf will smell like wintergreen. Yes! There was no mistaking it! These leaves had a strong wintergreen smell. It’s a good feeling being able to identify something other than dandelion and Eastern White Pine.

Apparently, Wintergreen produces white flowers in July or August and produces an edible red berry that tastes like wintergreen (believe it or not!) in August. The berries often remain on the plant over the Autumn and Winter. Some additional pictures of Wintergreen are below:

I had to be careful when identifying and picking Wintergreen. Not all the plants with shiny green leaves growing next to trees is Wintergreen. The plant to the right was growing all around the area, including next to the Wintergreen. But crushing the leaves in the fingers produced just a “leafy” smell only. This brings up another foraging lesson I learned in the foraging class I took in May. It is important to gather plants carefully as it could be easy to inadvertently gather a leaf or more of another plant that is right next to (or tangled up with) the plant you are harvesting.

There won’t be any Wintergreen tea tonight! From what I have read on various web sites (1, 2, 3) the recipe for making Wintergreen tea is as follows:

  1. Wash leaves.
  2. Put leaves, loosely packed into a jar and add spring water to cover the leaves.
  3. Put the covered jar in a warm place for a couple of days until the water is bubbly (This fermentation helps release the strong Wintergreen flavor from the leaves).
  4. Put the jar in a pan of hot water to warm the tea.
  5. The leaves can be strained out, dried in the sun and used again by simply pouring boiling water over those leaves and letting them steep for 10-15 minutes.
As you can see, I didn’t pick many Wintergreen leaves today.

American Beech (Fagus grandifolia)

I was able to positively identify the American Beech tree today. It is one of the most common trees on the trail. But it wasn’t growing to it’s typical height of 60-80 feet. The forest was so packed with trees that the branches were extending outwards far away from the trunk to get some sunlight. As you can see to the right and below, the leaves are large with coarse toothing and parallel veins. The bark is smooth and gray. According to the article Ten Tree Species on the NH Botanical Society web site, American Beech is on of the most common trees in Southern New Hampshire. The leaves are “marcescent, meaning they often stay on the three throughout the fall and winter, dropping only in the spring.”

The Peterson Field Guide for Edible Wild Plants of Eastern/Central North America states:

Well, back to gather American Beech nuts in October!

July 5, 2009

Common Mullein (Verbascum thapsus)

I went swimming in the Piscataquog River near Clough State Park today. I’m not sure about the bacteria levels after so much rain we’ve gotten over the last 10 days. It wasn’t quite the “mountain stream” I had hoped it would be, but it was still very nice to get in the water. Regular visits to swimming holes are on my agenda this Summer.

I walked into the back entrance of Clough State Park and saw many plants that I would like to identify for possible foraging. For example, I saw many of these plants pictured below with big stalks and wondered what they were:

I didn’t have any guidebooks to look it up, but when I got home and looked it up in the National Audubon Society Field Guide to Wildflowers: Eastern Region, I realized that it is mullein! The picture to the right is the mullein we saw in the May 2009 foraging class. Apparently, mullein is a biennial and produces a low rosette of leaves in the first year (see image to the right) and a “stout stalk topped by a clublike flowerhead in the second [year].” The flowers are yellow. The USDA PLANTS Database for Common Mullein has more images that look like the two pictures I took today.

Dried leaves can be made into tea that is specific for healing lung problems. The leaves can also be applied to the skin to sooth sunburn and other inflammations. The leaves were used by Native Americans and early settlers to line their footware to keep out the cold. The flowers and root were used medicinally as well.

Now that I know what it looks like, I’ll be doing a foraging trip for mullein in the near future.

Red Pine (Norway Pine) (Pinus resinosa)

As I was walking through Clough State Park in Southern New Hampshire today, I saw many large Eastern White Pine. But there were numerous very large pine trees that were obviously not Eastern White Pine. Even though the lowest branches were 40 feet off the ground, I could tell that the needles were darker green and thicker than typical of the Eastern White Pine. I was about to assume that they must be Pitch Pine since the article Ten Tree Species on the NH Botanical Society web site, states that Red Pine is uncommon in Southern New Hampshire. But the Park Ranger drove by to save the day! He told me that those trees were Red Pine and that they had been planted years ago in “plantation sytle.”

There are two large trees in the picture on the right. The tree on the left is the Red Pine. The tree on the right is the Eastern White Pine. Additional pictures can be found below that match the description found in the National Audubon Society Field Guide to Trees: Eastern Region. Needles: “2 in a bundle.” I could not reach a branch 40 feet off the ground. Bark: “reddish-brown or gray; with broad, flat, scaly plates; becomming thick.” The bark is definately redish (especially seen in a close-up image) and those scaly plates easily flake off the tree trunk. Cones: “1-1/2 -- 2-1/2 inches long, egg-shapped, shiny light brown; ... without prickles.”

I don’t know if Red Pine can be used for foraging. But I like being able to recognize some local trees.

July 7, 2009

Wintergreen (Checkerberry, Teaberry) (Gaultheria procumbens)

Well, it looks like I didn’t wait long enough for the Wintergreen Tea. I was supposed to wait “a couple of days” until the water was bubbly from the fermentation of the leaves to brew the tea. After three days, the water was not bubbly, but there were bubbles on the sides of the bottle and a very, very strong wintergreen smell. So, I heated the tea and took a little bit (undiluted). Even though there was a strong wintergreen smell, the taste was somewhat bland.

I picked up more Wintergreen today at the park. For half of the leaves, I will follow the directions and wait until the water itself is bubbly ... even if it takes 60 years! For the other half, I will try Mike & Judy’s suggestion of putting the leaves in a coffee grinder and just make the tea right away.

Eastern Hemlock (Canadian Hemlock) (Tsuga canadensis)

I identified Eastern Hemlock this morning. It is part of the Pinaceae family and like other trees in that family, its leaves have a significant amount of Vitamin C and were commonly used to make tea. According to the article Ten Tree Species on the NH Botanical Society web site, Eastern Hemlock is one of three short, flat-needled conifers in New Hampshire. The other two are the Balsim Fir (Abies balsamea) and the Canadian Yew (Taxus canadensis) (which grows most commonly in shrub form). I am not making a tea out of the Eastern Hemlock today, but I have to be careful with my identification because the Canadian Yew is poisonous.

As you can see from the images below, the Eastern Hemlock has short, flat, flexible, shiny green needles on redish-brown twigs. Needles have two parallel white lines on the underside. Brown, scaled cones on the ends of twigs. Cones are very small: 1/2 - 3/4 inch long. Bark is redish-brown, deeply furrowed into broad scaly ridges. Other flat-needled look-similars in New hampshire: The Balsim Fir has smooth bark with many resin blisters and the cones are much bigger (2 - 3-1/4 inches). The Canadian Yew (poisonous) does not have a scaly cone, has stiff pointy needles with yellowish lines beneath the needles.

Here is an excellent little video with Frank Cook on “The Pine Family (Pinaceae) As Wild Food:

Another very interesting video is a 25-minute documentary, The Local Food Challenge where “seven people, connected to the White Earth Reservation, challenged themselves to eat foods grown within 250 miles of where they lived for one year.” You have to scroll half way down the web page and click on the image of the video. It takes about 5-15 minutes for the video to load and then start automatically (so keep the sound turned up so you know when the documentary starts). Or you can right-click on the following Link and “Save Target/Link As” to your desktop for later viewing with Quicktime, VideoLan Media Player Classic, or ZoomPlayer.

July 12, 2009

Lowbush Blueberry (American Blueberry, Low Sweet Blueberry) (Vaccinium angustifolium)

Went on a 2-hour foraging hike up a hill, on a gravel trail. The trail was lined with maple and red oak trees. On the side of the trail there were occasional pools of water. I must have walked by hundreds of plants that I had no idea what they were. Very frustrating! I was feeling every leafy plant, hoping to find stinging nettles. No luck. I did see some Wintergreen as well as other plants that I took pictures of for later identification.

Finally, near the top of the hill, there were large swaths of low-growing blueberry bushes. I love plants that are easy to identify! Many of the blueberries were ripe, but in a couple of weeks, there may be a bigger selection to choose from.

Below are additional images from the blueberry forage. Simple, alternative leavaes. Minutely toothed leaves (cannot see very slight serration in the images). Berries have 5 lobes forming a star pattern. Leave are more lance-like rather than the somewhat ovate (oval) leaves on the Dwarf Bilberry (Vaccinium cespitosum). Dark blue berries when ripe. It was growing as a very low shrub covering up to a 20 square foot area. Not 100% certain of the identification as Vaccinium angustifolium species as it could be one of the other Vaccinium species.

July 13, 2009

Yellow Wood Sorrel (Sour Grass) (Oxalis stricta)

After work today I took a walk along a path. To the right of the path there was a forest of maple trees. In the forest, there was some waste ground, near where a bonfire had been built. I saw this Wood Sorrel-looking plant. I think it is Yellow Wood Sorrel. It is a low, spreading plant with yellow flowers. The flowers haven’t opened yet, but when they do open, they should have 5 yellow petals with 10 stamen. The leaves are divided into three heart-shaped leaflets that are each within the 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch wide specification from my guidebook ( Peterson Field Guide for Edible Wild Plants of Eastern/Central North America). The leaves do have a slightly sour and a bit of a lemony flavor. I will take more pictures to confirm the identity when the flowers open up.

But since there are not any toxic plants listed in my guidebook that look like this plant, I added some leaflets to my noodles tonight for flavor. Tonight, I’m eating either noodles and yellow wood sorrel or noodles and weeds! I am inviting endless pats on the back for my tentative identification of another edible plant!

Edible plant books always stress not to overdo the eating of sorrel because it contains oxalic acid which can block the uptake of calcium at a meal. Bear in mind that other common foods have oxalic acid (e.g., spinach, beet greens). As long as one has a variety and does not eat sorrel, spinach, etc. day after day, at every meal, it is probably fine to ingest a moderate amount.

Wintergreen (Checkerberry, Teaberry) (Gaultheria procumbens) and
Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus)

I made several attempts at a Pine & Wintergreen-aide tonight. Before I get to that, though. I finished brewing my Wintergreen tea this morning. In order to see the story behind that, please see the first two entries for “Wintergreen tea in the 2009 Foraging Key.”

After six days, there were still no bubbles in the water of the fermenting Wintergreen leaves. But the reason I know it was done is that all of the leaves had sunk to the bottom and there was a film of what appeared to be Wintergreen oil on the top of the water. I am guessing that when the leaves sink, they’ve released all of their Wintergreen oil.

I strained and refrigerated the Wintergreen liquid. Then I mixed one cup of chilled Eastern White Pine tea with 1 Tablespoon of Wintergreen liquid and enough honey to taste. It had a pleasant, sweet, minty-pine taste. But I’ll try it again tomorrow to see if I want to make it a regular beverage. Update: It turns out that honey-sweetened Eastern White Pine tea is much better by itself (or with mint) then when adding Wintergreen. It was a good experiment, though.

Below is a foraging video on pine as a food source:

Contraindications: Do not drink pine needle/twig/bark tea when pregnant or if you are allergic to pine.

July 16, 2009

Black Raspberry (Blackcap) (Rubus occidentalis)

I went walking in the park at lunch with my foraging friends, Mike and Judy. They’re not “black belt”-level foragers yet, but they are experienced and have an eye for the little plants. I spotted a blackberry-like bush at the park. Blackberries are part of the Rubus genus and there are a endless number of species in that genus that are difficult to tell apart. At first I thought it might be the Allegheny Blackberry (Rubus allegheniensis) or the Upland Blackberry (Rubus pergratus), but it appears to be the Black Raspberry (Rubus occidentalis). The Black Raspberry has some key differences from the Blackberry species:

July 17, 2009

Common Sheep Sorrel (Red Sorrel, Sour Weed) (Rumex acetosella)

Mike and Judy showed me what Sheep Sorrel looks like. I’ve walked past it endless times without noticing. Even when you’re looking for it, it can be hard to spot. It tends to grow in clumps. The lance-shaped leaves with the distinctive double-tail should make it easy to recognize. But the double-tail pieces sometimes curl or the leaves sometimes fold in such a way that the plant can be it difficult to find.

Like the Wood Sorrels (Oxalis species), it has a sour, lemony taste that makes for a good trailside nibble. But tonight's collection of Sheep Sorrel was for a first attempt at Sorrel Soup.

From what I’ve read, Sorrel Soup is well-known in French cooking. It is also traditional in some other European cultures. So, I looked online for a reasonably healthy Sorrel Soup recipe and came up with the following:


Look at the “action pictures” below of the Sorrel Soup being made, especially the exciting blender action. You don’t get this kind of action on other foraging web sites! The Sorrel Soup was very good. I highly recommend it.

Contraindications: Because sorrel has oxalic acid (like spinach and beet greens) it is important not to use it excessively as calcium uptake from meals will be lower when oxalic acid is ingested. Persons with kidney stones, gout or rheumatism should be conscious of ingesting in moderation.

Yellow Wood Sorrel (Sour Grass) (Oxalis stricta)

I went out to the Yellow Wood Sorrel patch to make sure I identified it correctly a few days ago. Apparently, Creeping Woodsorrel (Oxalis corniculata) has a similar yellow flower and leaves. But there are differences, one of which can be seen in the picture to the far right:

The pictures show that the Yellow Wood Sorrel I found does not root at the nodes (where the leaf stem emerges), but instead roots at the rhizomes (underground stem).

I’ve read about Oxalis-aide (like lemonaide, but using wood sorrel instead) on different foraging sites. Found a recipe for an Oxalis Cooler on Sunny Johnson’s foraging web site (scroll far down the page).


Below, you can see “action pictures” of the Oxalis Cooler being made. The Oxalis Cooler was like a sweet (and slightly sour) light green drink. A nice flavor, but definately not like lemonaide. I recommend trying it at least once.

Below is an excellent video on Wood Sorrel:

Wood Sorrel has a number of traditional medicinal uses in addition to its food uses. Please see the Yellow Wood Sorrel Identification & Uses web page for more information.

Contraindications: Because sorrel has oxalic acid (like spinach and beet greens) it is important not to use it excessively as calcium uptake from meals will be lower when oxalic acid is ingested. Persons with kidney stones, gout or rheumatism should be conscious of ingesting in moderation.

July 18, 2009

Yellow Wood Sorrel (Sour Grass) (Oxalis stricta)

Walked a 2 mile trail up a hill this afternoon. Finally saw an open 5-petal yellow flower on the Yellow Wood Sorrel. Just like it shows in the book. I collected a couple of plants to press the juice out of them and make a very small plaster. Wood Sorrel is well known as a traditional cancer treatment. It can be used externally on skin cancer, swellings and inflammation. Please see the Yellow Wood Sorrel Identification & Uses web page for more information.

I didn't get much juice out. It may be better to use a wheatgrass juicer to get more juice. Then I mixed it with a bit of fine flour to thicken.

July 19, 2009

Lowbush Blueberry (American Blueberry, Low Sweet Blueberry) (Vaccinium angustifolium) and
Highbush Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum)

For thousands of years, Man has pondered the question:
In the next 24 hours, I will be able to answer that question!

Yesterday, I spent about 1-1/2 hours picking blueberries from a huge patch of Lowbush Blueberries. I gave about a pint of blood to the mosquitoes and had a not-so-friendly wasp sting me in the thigh (at least I think it was a wasp, it didn't stop to introduce itself). After about 15 minutes, a woman came up the hill to pick blueberries. She had some sort of hand-rake contraption that makes harvesting easier. But since there weren’t that many blueberries, the rake didn't prove useful. I picked two cups of blueberries and had enough of the mosquitoes, so I flew down the hill into the safety of my car.

Today, I went hiking with Mike and Judy. On the way home, we stopped by a “pick-your-own” blueberry farm. They had Highbush Blueberry bushes. Below are some pictures that can be compared with the Local Images of Lowbush Blueberry bushes. I picked 5-1/2 pounds in just under an hour. Much easier and quicker to gather from the Highbush Blueberry bushes!

Made a smoothie based on an online recipe for the Wild Blueberry and Hemp Shake. The ingredients:


I wish I could say that Lowbush or Highbush Blueberries tasted better in the shake, but they tasted pretty much the same. The Lowbush Blueberries might be slightly sweeter when eaten by hand. The Wild Blueberry and Hemp shake is excellent and I highly recommend it for a Summer drink. Next time, I will make it with Maple Syrup as I want to use as many locally-available ingredients as possible.

July 20, 2009

Red Clover (Trifolium pratense)

I’ve been eyeing the red clover for the last week or so (ever since Mike and Judy showed me what it looked like). Red clover leaves are edible after boiling for 5-10 minutes or soaking in cold salty water for several hours. But primarily, red clover is known for its tea made from the purple flowers. It is a powerful blood cleansing herb and is often part of a natural cancer treatment protocol. See the Red Clover Identification and Food & Medicinal Uses web page for more information.

I gathered about 15 red clover tops, rinsed them in spring water and then poured boiling water over them and let them steep for about 10 minutes. But I accidently added too much honey. Have to try again with less honey.

I am having some trouble find a lot of red clover flowers. There are a some near the community gardens and there were some near where I found the Lowbush Blueberries (but the flowers were washed away in the rain). Sometimes the flowers are dried and used for tea later or the flowers are dried and then ground into a nutritious flour.

July 22, 2009

Common Sheep Sorrel (Red Sorrel, Sour Weed) (Rumex acetosella)

I met Mike and Judy for a easy hike and some foraging amongst the heavy layer of bugs this past weekend. Fortunately, I had foraged the day before for Lowbush Blueberries in thick clouds of mosquitoes, so relatively this wasn’t quite as bad. At the top of the mini-mountain we found large swaths of Sheep Sorrel as you can see from the pictures. We also saw quite a bit of Yellow Wood Sorrel, some dandelion and plantain. The forest was primarily maple trees. There were only a couple of scruffy-looking, small Eastern White Pines. I'll have to go somewhere else to get more pine needle tea.

Jennifer gave me an excellent Sorrel Soup recipe (called “Chard Soup with Sorrel or Lemon”) from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison. I made a few changes to make it vegan and to suit the ingredients I had on hand. Adapted ingredients:


It tasted very good, so I hope everyone reading this tries a Sorrel Soup from the recipe today or the one on July 17, 2009.

July 26, 2009

Images from July 26, 2009 Foraging Class at the Herban Living Center in Temple, New Hampshire. The class was taught by Tim Keating.

Over the next couple of weeks, I plan to post fewer foraging experiences and focus more on catching up on some of the “Under Construction” pages on this site.

July 28, 2009

Partridge Berry (Checkerberry, Squaw Vine, Deer Berry, Winter Clover) (Mitchella repens)

It was so relaxing to work from the State Park today. I can connect to work from my portable computer using AT&T Laptop Connect and GoToMyPC. The Internet connection is slow, but I”m not complaining. After I finished, I hiked up a moderately steep trail through the forest. Along the side of the trail, I came across an area with a large number of Partridge Berry plants.

Ground-hugging perennial herb. Creeps along the ground with vinelike stems. Plant under 2 inches tall. Dark green (somewhat shiny) and opposite leaves. Leaves less than 1 inch in length. White flower pairs give rise to 1/2-inch, red fruit with two eyes (indentations) on the side of the fruit. Fruit is not sweet.

It was a surprise to come across an area near that trail with Red Pines since the article Ten Tree Species on the NH Botanical Society web site, states that Red Pine is uncommon in Southern New Hampshire. Perhaps it was planted there as it was at Clough State Park (New Hampshire). I also saw Wintergreen (no berries yet), huge patches of Lowbush Blueberries with very few blueberries left on the plant, and a medium-sized patch of Sheep Sorrel at the top of the hill. I didn’t pick the Sheep Sorrel as I still have Sorrel Soup left from my last Sheep Sorrel forage.

Okay, let’s face it. My camera sucks for up-close shots! I’d like to get a Canon EOS 50D Digital SLR camera, but it retails for over $1,000! Even the Canon EOS 40D Digital SLR camera is almost $900. I will just forget about it for a week and see if the desire to get a new camera is still there next week.

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August 2009 Foraging Experiences